The director of the Tokyo Olympics' opening ceremony was fired by the organizing committee Thursday, one day before the event, over a joke about the Holocaust he allegedly made during a comedy show in 1998.
The now-ousted director, Kentaro Kobayashi, is accused of using the phrase “Let’s play Holocaust" in a decades-old comedy act.
“We found out that Mr. Kobayashi, in his own performance, has used a phrase ridiculing a historical tragedy,” Tokyo Olympic organizing committee president Seiko Hashimoto told reporters Thursday, according to the Associated Press. “We deeply apologize for causing such a development the day before the opening ceremony and for causing troubles and concerns to many involved parties as well as the people in Tokyo and the rest of the country.”
On Wednesday, the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles condemned "past anti-Semitic jokes as well as reported bullying of disabled individuals" that had been reported by Japanese media this week.
"Any person, no matter how creative, does not have the right to mock the victims of the Nazi genocide," Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean and global social action director for the Simon Wiesenthal Center, said in a statement Wednesday. "The Nazi regime also gassed Germans with disabilities. Any association of this person to the Tokyo Olympics would insult the memory of six million Jews and make a cruel mockery of the Paralympics."
The opening ceremony of the Tokyo Summer Games, which were delayed a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, will take place on Friday and be an audience-less affair, as spectators were banned earlier this month in order to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
“We are going to have the opening ceremony tomorrow and, yes, I am sure there are a lot of people who are not feeling easy about the opening of the Games,” Hashimoto said Thursday. “But we are going to open the Games tomorrow under this difficult situation.”